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Talk about trial by fire. When Helen Walker Tolar joined Sen. John Boozman as his chief of staff in the midst of the government shutdown, nothing was typical.
“I couldn’t have come at a more bananas time,” Tolar said. Throughout it, she and the rest of the office were “flooded with calls” from constituents concerned about a wide array of issues regarding the shutdown, such as the state of federal hunting grounds.
A graduate of the University of South Carolina’s law school, Tolar’s expertise is in the military, and she most recently served as the staff director and chief counsel of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“There’s no more deserving class of citizenry to serve,” she said, noting that both her father and her husband served in the Marine Corps.
Prior to her time at Veterans’ Affairs, she worked in the personal office of Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla. Miller and Boozman were both elected to the House in 2000, and Tolar said their respective staffs grew up together.
In search of career success, Tolar has two major rules: “You can’t be afraid of hard work,” but also, “you have to build in free time.”
She also says she wouldn’t be where she is without her husband, John “Mac” Tolar. While he now serves as the military legislative counsel to Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., he spent 18 months as a stay-at-home dad with the couple’s daughter and newborn twins while his wife continued to work.
Their life outside of work centers entirely on their children, Tolar said. Before they had kids, the pair liked to travel and go camping, but now it’s largely confined to outings to the park.
Still, they do their best to schedule time just for each other.
A few years ago, she and her husband were lucky enough to be working in the same building and could occasionally grab coffee together during the day. Now they count the half-hour drive into work each day as a “micro-date” where they can catch up and savor the rare moments of being together, uninterrupted.
Tolar said she’s thrilled to be working for Boozman. He is “one of the most admired legislators,” she said, and as a family man himself, he is understanding of her commitment to family.
Working in the Senate also allows Tolar to work on a diverse range of issues up-close, she noted. The chance to “stretch my legs” and jump into the complexities of life in the Senate is something she looks forward to, Tolar said.